Guernsey Then and Now

Most of the locations I used for Glint of Light on Broken Glass still exist. The sun still sets over Cobo and can be enjoyed from the terrace at the Rockmount, but no longer from the Cobo Arms, which is long gone. A visitor to the Castel Church can see the statue-menhir I have called the Gràn’mère, the tomb of Admiral Saumarez and the fresco high on the walls. Archaeologists are increasingly interested in the Roman brick and tile that emerges from grave-digging and engineering work. There may actually be a ‘Castle’ in the Catel.  still stand beside.

St Matthew’s Cobo stands proud on the skyline above the west coast, which has changed considerably since 1913. German engineers and their slave workers dramatically altered  Vazon and Cobo during the Second World War by building an anti-tank wall, so the dunes of the sand-eeling party are gone. Their concrete bunkers and gun positions stud the landscape and have changed the profiles of the Napoleonic forts at Hommet and Grande Rocques. All over the island they remain as stark reminders of how war can affect such a tranquil place. La Grande Mare has been drained and turned into a golf course, although after heavy rain it can revert to the way nature intended.

The Castel has become quite built-up by ribbon development and small estates since the 1950’s. Most of its quarries have been filled in and many of the vineries (glasshouses) cleared away for houses. An unexpected consequence of losing all this industry is that the Parish may actually now be a prettier place than it was in 1913. The prominent rock of Le Guet was bare at that time, allowing the boys to play Boer War on its slopes, but its Napoleonic watch-house is now shrouded by Scots Pines.

abreveur The heritage of the parish remains evident in its granite houses, pretty rendered cottages and its abreuveurs (water troughs). Almost all its lanes have been given a tarmac surface, but many are still overhung by trees on both sides, joining to form an arch. All are lined by flowers in the spring; yellow first, then the colours. A secondary school has been built at Les Beaucamps, and the Militia huts demolished, but the granite drill hall remains.

St Peter Port has kept its character better than most towns over in England. ‘Town’ was spared heavy bombing during the war, and as a tourist town it needed to retain its rows of Victorian villas and traditional hotels. Planning controls kicked in rapidly enough in the 1980’s to prevent it turning into a nightmare of glass and concrete boxes, although these have popped up on former industrial land on the northern fringe. Around the Town Church and Arcade, the original tea-shops have gone but Creasey’s department store still sells hats. The Golden Lion has been rebuilt but still sells gin, and although the Markets have been converted to a shopping complex the arcade and internal street remain. The Guille-Allès Library where Edith learned to dream still stands opposite the Markets, but the “stuffed monkeys and stone axes” have moved to the new museum at Candie.

Memorials to the Boer War and Victor Hugo are well maintained, and there is now a memorial to those who fell in the World Wars at the top of Smith Street as well as in each parish. Candie Gardens’ band-stand houses Guernsey Museum’s café, but bands still play on its terrace in the summer. Ironically there are photographs of German military bands playing there during the Second World War. The gingko tree was thriving when I wrote the book, but the last winter storms finally did for it.

The Mail Boat has been replaced by ‘fast’ car ferries and the White Rock has been modified to accommodate them, but ships still leave from the place where SS Stella and SS Lydia departed. Castle Cornet now welcomes tourists rather than recruits, and it houses the RGLI Regimental Museum, telling the brief but gallant history of the island’s regiment. After the Great War, the French seaplane base was taken down and the Model Yacht Pond went back to its former use by boys of all ages.

Quarrying went into decline after the Great War and from over two hundred working quarries, just one remained in use by AD 2000. Tomato growing took off in a big way, employing a quarter of the workforce between the wars. It survived into the last quarter of the century but was gradually smothered in the face of subsidised rivals from the European Union; locals continue to buy the ‘Guernsey Tom’ from ‘hedge veg’ stalls. Dairy farming followed a similar course but the friendly Guernsey cow is still producing the world’s finest milk on the twenty surviving farms. Mrs Patterson had the right idea and tourism became a mainstay of the economy through the 20th century until tourists started to seek places that were hotter, cheaper and more exotic to fly to; we still welcome a quarter of a million a year. After the 1980’s, however, it was bank workers like Artie that made up the bedrock of the island’s prosperity.

laneArtie and George strolled past my gate on the way to sign up with the Militia at Les Beaucamps and half the events of the book take place within a mile of where I sat typing. That said, although there are several houses called La Vallée in Guernsey, none are the cottage/house complex featured in the story.

I have spent two decades living in the Castel, sat on the sand with a cider in hand and watched the sun sink towards America. The world inhabited by George, Artie and Edith may have lost its innocence, but Guernsey is still a beautiful island.


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